Does the NCAA love its lesbians?

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parker_candice_blog.jpgIt’s come down to Tennessee vs. Stanford. Candice Parker (photo) of the Vols and the Cardinals’ Candice Wiggins at 8:30 p.m. tonight for the NCAA Women’s Championship.

(Watch the game tonight at a viewing party and fund-raiser for Atlanta Pride.)

And with women’s basketball comes the usual chatter about sexual orientation. It’s always lurking in the shadows, from speculation about players to guesstimates on how many lesbians will be among the throngs of fans in the St. Pete Times Forum tonight.

Media outlets in Florida have also weighed in with stories about how lesbian-centered businesses in town prepared for a boost in business with the Final Four and just how many lesbians might come to Tampa. It’s no question that lesbians love the Final Four. Instead, it’s one of how much the NCAA loves its lesbians.

The question played out a bit in a piece by Shannon Owens, a columnist for the Orlando Sentinel, who insists the Final Four is about hoops, not gays:

It’s extremely smart for Tampa’s gay community to capitalize on lesbian spending dollars during the women’s basketball Final Four.?

It’s also smart for the NCAA and the local organizers to stay out of it.??

It’s not about blacks, whites, Hispanics, Asians, Native Americans or, for that matter, even men or women. It’s about four teams that survived enough tribulation and triumph in their seasons to advance to the biggest stage in their sport.

Owens talked to Cyd Zeigler, co-founder of and a friend and colleague of mine, for the column and he later blogged about it, agreeging that the time to fight for equality is not on the court at the Final Four.

“In [the] event of crowning [a] national championship, they have no responsibility other than to the women on the court and I would say that if it were any other group as well. This weekend is about basketball and that’s it and that’s how it should be.”

The NCAA, nervous of the attention the lesbian angle has received in coverage of the women’s national chmpionship, issued a statement about the descriptions of its fan base:

“To say any NCAA championship appeals to a certain percentage of a particular segment of the population, especially without scientific backing, is without merit. The truth is each tournament appeals to a core group of fans but that core is as diverse as the American population itself.”

And that’s where I have a quibble with Owens and Zeigler. I agree that the Final Four isn’t the setting for a gay rights fight. While the NCAA is getting better about discussing issues of sexual orientation and gays athletes, the statement the organization issued is insulting. It should have been an affirmation of the diversity of the fan base – lesbians included – that watched the Final Four unfold.

Instead, it’s a statement that tries to knock down the notion that lesbians are anywhere near the Forum tonight, an argument that anyone with even the slightest hint of gaydar will see as a silly one to make.

For a breakdown on the game, go here.

For more on Candice vs. Candice, go here.


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